Perry can still show power via special session, veto pen

By Peggy Fikac
June 4, 2013

AUSTIN – For much of the regular legislative session, Gov. Rick Perry was most notable by his relative silence. He declared no emergency items, he gave a state of the state speech that did not even mention abortion, and lawmakers appeared unafraid to target him.

By session’s end, he looked a bit more like the 800-pound gorilla Texans have become used to, as he weighs a political future that could include a run for re-election, another presidential race, both or neither.

A bill targeting his security costs on political trips, which prompted him to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with its author, died. So did a proposed constitutional amendment for term limits, seen as a referendum on his more than a dozen years in office.

Efforts to provide health care to more people under the federal reform law – whether characterized as Medicaid expansion or not – withered under his opposition.

Perry saw passage not only of a widely supported water package, but a big share of the less-enthusiastically embraced tax relief he demanded. He vetoed a bill on political donation disclosure vilified by some conservative advocates, and his veto pen does not run out of ink until June 16.

He called lawmakers back into a special session on the politically thorny issue of redistricting, with the power to add whatever else he likes to the agenda.

It is a good reminder of what friends and enemies agree on: It is a mistake to underestimate Perry.

“People should never discount Rick Perry. He has been counted out before, but he always gets up off the mat,” Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said while acknowledging that Attorney General Greg Abbott would be a formidable opponent if he decided to take on the governor.

Perry not commenting

Few expect it to come to that, thinking it more likely that Perry will decide against a re-election bid or that Abbott will aim at the spot held by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst if Perry goes for another term at the top.

“If you asked me three weeks ago if I thought he was running for governor again, I would have said ‘no’ without hesitation. I’m just not ready to say that any more,” Democratic strategist Harold Cook said.

Perry will not say what he plans to do, with the special session giving him reason for not announcing yet.

“I’m not thinking about anything past the next 30 days,” Perry said Friday.

If Perry launches another bid for re-election or even president – the latter viewed by some as beyond a long-shot – some suggest the businesslike regular session could be more of an asset than the red-meat portfolio he carried into his first run for president after the Legislature approved measures that included a pared-down budget and a requirement for women to have sonograms before getting abortions.

Aided by longevity

“I think he played it right if he’s thinking about running for the presidency. He didn’t get involved in any controversies,” said Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who added that his résumé should not be underestimated.

“Under no circumstances is he the typical governor. He is probably the most powerful governor in the history of the state of Texas, and that is because of his longevity – the fact that he has appointed every member of every commission, board and council that requires advice and consent of the Senate, and then some,” Zaffirini said.

James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project the University of Texas at Austin, said Perry had “a reasonably successful session, allowing for the fact it was much less ambitious and he had much less of a leadership role than he did last time.”

Citing Perry’s veto power and control over the special-session agenda, Henson said, “Now is when we’ll kind of find out how well he’s done this session.”

‘He’s unpredictable’

GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak said what Perry prevented happening in the session is as important as what passed, citing in part the death of the political disclosure bill and Medicaid expansion. Mackowiak said he thinks it is more likely Perry will run for president than re-election, but added, “I think he’s unpredictable right now.”

Rep. Lyle Larson, a San Antonio Republican who pushed bills to rein in the cost state taxpayers bear for security on political trips and allow for term limits, lauded Perry despite the pushback he got from the governor over the proposals.

Larson said he saw Perry act in a way reminiscent of Gov. George W. Bush, who was known for a charm offensive that included frequent contact with lawmakers. “He’s been a kinder, gentler governor,” Larson said. “I think that’s worked in his favor.”

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